Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Prominent Sunni released by Shiite captors in Iraq

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BAGHDAD

A prominent Sunni Arab lawmaker kidnapped nearly two months ago was released on Saturday, delivered to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki by men she described as religious Shiites who initially considered her an enemy because of her sect.

The lawmaker, Tayseer Najah al-Mashhadani, was abducted along with at least seven bodyguards on July 1 in eastern Baghdad while driving to a parliamentary session.

Members of her political bloc, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said an escaped bodyguard described her captors as Shiite militiamen.

Afterward, the party boycotted the parliament for weeks, complaining that the Shiite-led government was not doing enough to rein in such militias.

In an interview on that she gave on Saturday, al-Mashhadani described an abduction and release that raised questions about the government's connections to the kidnappers.

"At the first moment of my kidnapping I was so scared," she said.

"They captured me, blindfolded me and took me into a house in Baghdad. I stayed there for four days," she said.

The kidnappers then took her to a plain two-story home in another area of the city. A family lived on the first floor.

She said she spent most of her time in a room on the second floor, where she was watched by guards who prayed several times a day.

"They usually tried to make me feel OK," she said.

"They said: `We are Iraqis like you; we will never hurt you. You are here under our protection,"' she said.

"I talked to the guards about religious ideas and political information, and I usually tried to avoid anything controversial that would make problems between us," she said.

"I talked about things that we all agreed with," she said.

Still, she cried every day for the first three weeks, she said.

When she asked why they kidnapped her, they said that they wanted Shiite detainees released and that she deserved it because she was Sunni.

"They didn't understand the real situation in Iraq," she said.

"They thought all Sunnis were terrorists. I had to explain that we want this country to develop. We want it to be stable here," she said.

Sometimes, she said she would ask the guards to change the channel on a TV near her room to al-Iraqiya, the state-owned news station, so she could hear whether she had been forgotten.

She said she had been encouraged to discover that prominent Shiite and Kurdish politicians often agitated for her release.

Then on Friday -- day 55 of her ordeal -- her kidnappers said it would soon be time to go.

Her release, they said, would come on Saturday or Sunday.

She said they did not say why.

Haider Majid, a spokesman for the prime minister, initially said that she had been brought to al-Maliki's office because al-Mashhadani wanted to thank him, though al-Mashhadani had little control over her own movement.

Then he described the release as "a gift" to al-Maliki for his efforts to tamp down sectarian violence and bring the country together.

He emphasized the timing -- on a day when hundreds of sheiks gathered in Baghdad to hear al-Maliki discuss plans for a national reconciliation program.

Al-Mashhadani's release was a surprising end to a day that started with al-Maliki addressing the first of four conferences for national reconciliation. With hundreds of sheiks appearing from all over the country at a Baghdad hotel, it was the biggest gathering of tribal chieftains since the US invasion in 2003.

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